The Toronto Maple Leafs keep finding ways to lose games, coming from behind twice before dropping their fourth straight in a 4-2 loss to the Boston Bruins on Friday night.

Your game in ten:

1.  Let’s start with a few positives: Tonight’s performance from Auston Matthews was really encouraging. His tip goal was outrageous, and I’m not sure we’ve ever seen him that engaged physically throughout a game; he was credited with just the one hit on the game sheet, but he threw multiple solid bodychecks. He looked like he really wants to dig in and help lead the team out of this.

Despite just the two power plays, the Matthews line saw a shade over 20 minutes tonight, while the Tavares line was in the 18-19 min. range, which is what you’d expect with Alex Kerfoot now out of the lineup. Both lines were pretty good at 5v5, at least in the first 40 minutes.

2Kasperi Kapanen was a real driver for the Tavares line tonight with how well he’s skating over 200 feet of the ice, and he appears to be oozing confidence offensively now — his dangle at the blue line and drop pass to Tavares for a near-miss was one of the more impressive displays of poise, vision, and puck skill we’ve seen out of him in his time in the league.

In general, he is showing more patience and control in possession of late — an encouraging development from a player who can certainly fight the puck and play heads-down at times, especially when he was gripping his stick amid a tough start to the season. Kapanen has often left us wanting when it comes to taking full advantage of the extra time and space his footspeed affords him, but he’s handling the puck and sensing the play much better of late, leading to more productive situations offensively.

3. In his second game back, Zach Hyman again was a breath of fresh air with his ability to chase down pucks, with his most notable forecheck coming prior to the 2-2 goal; he outbattled two Bruins down low and was so strong on the puck that when Zdeno Chara tried to throw a hit on him, Chara nearly stumbled over. Dump-ins aren’t the automatic giveaway they often are with this team when Hyman is out there hunting them down.

4. On that note, both Leaf goals originated from below the goal line as a result of hard forecheck + cycle work. The Leafs also seemed to up the physical factor for the rivalry game, with Matthews throwing a notable hit on Charlie McAvoy in addition to Frederik Gauthier’s big hit behind the Boston net on the forecheck. They’re doing a lot of the right things work ethic-wise to generate offense and momentum at even strength in these past few games while finding the rush offense and power-play goals very hard to come by.

Partly it’s a credit to the way the Bruins can confidently lock down hockey games, but unfortunately, the Leafs looked like they got frustrated once they fell behind the third time in the final frame.

5.  Can’t be the only one who noticed Zdeno Chara flagrantly high stick Nylander in the face to the side of the Bruins net with a ref two feet away and then get away with it seemingly because he apologized to Nylander after. Different set of rules for him.

6.  What an untimely bad moment from Morgan Rielly and Frederik Andersen at the start of the third period. Rielly had nearly backed up to the top of the circle by the time Marchand fully gained the zone, while Andersen wasn’t strong on his post on the goal. A fragile team can’t afford to start a third period of a tie game against a great team that way. Andersen couldn’t come up with the make-able save when the Leafs came back and made it 2-2 versus the Islanders, either, and he probably could’ve stayed with the play better on the 3-2 goal tonight as well. The loss wasn’t on him, but the Leafs are going to need more of the timely Freddy saves they’re accustomed to if they’re going to turn this around.

7.  Not a good first game back at 3C for Jason Spezza, who was on the ice for two Boston goals and missed an empty-net with a chance to give the Leafs just their sixth opening goal in 21 games (just prior to Boston opening the scoring at the other end). His only power play contribution was turning it over twice in a row on the opportunity late in the second period.

If you isolate Spezza in the buildup to the 1-0 and 3-2 Boston goals, it makes for difficult viewing. On the first, he’s floating around the d-zone puck watching, often with his stick by his hip, not looking to really engage or pick anyone up. The centerman also has to show more awareness on the play where Marchand came off the bench and into the high slot undetected to score the game-winner.

If Kerfoot is out for several weeks, the Leafs might have to find an alternative answer here rather than running with Spezza as their 3C for that long of a period. The Leafs are struggling too badly for offense and Matthews-Nylander is clicking too well right now to shift Nylander to C. You wonder about Pierre Engvall coming up from the Marlies for a look given he’s put up 12 points in 13 games and brings an intriguing combination of size and speed, but it’s probably asking too much of a rookie. Most likely, they will live with what they have for now.

8.  It was a pretty rare occasion last season that the Leafs would slip as quietly into the night as they did in the final five minutes of this game. You used to feel like the Leafs were never really out of a game knowing the big push was going to come before the night was through. That type of never-out-of-it swagger is MIA right now.

I saw Babcock catching criticism for the fourth-line d-zone start with three minutes left, but that wasn’t the issue in this specific instance. Shifts from the Matthews and Tavares lines had just happened back-to-back, while the Spezza line had some brutal d-zone shifts during this game. Nick Shore won the draw, the Leafs got it up ice, and Spezza’s line (with Nylander on the right) immediately came out for a quick shift. There was a brutal icing in the mix from Jake Muzzin, but they ended up getting their loaded six-man unit out for the final 2:10 or so, which is what you’re looking to set up if you’re Babcock.

The execution from the Leafs’ six-man unit after that was just terrible. How do four Leafs give Matthews so few options here? His only choice was a backhand play up the wall through a Bruins forechecker or ringing it back down to no one.

wtf Leafs

Specifically, what is Tyson Barrie doing? He gives Matthews no option and then has to scramble to the puck behind the net before sending it up the wall straight to Chara for the empty-netter.  Rare to see a player as talented as Barrie look so lost for such a sustained period of time.

9.  A discussion about the fourth-line d-zone usage more generally makes for a more worthwhile debate. Shore and Gauthier lead the entire league in defensive zone faceoff starts — 88 in the d-zone and four in the o-zone — so it’s an extreme adherence to this deployment strategy. On one hand, they’re hanging in there at roughly even in the goals share and ~45% in possession. The fourth line playing their shifts to a saw-off with such extreme d-zone usage, freeing up the Tavares and Matthews lines to start 70-80% of their shifts in the offensive zone, is ostensibly a great thing.

For a team that thrives more in transition/off the rush historically, though, how much opportunity are you giving up to generate rush chances by going to the fourth-line d-zone draw + quick change so consistently? It’s an interesting question.  The Matthews line is starting around 80% of their faceoffs in the o-zone, up from around 65% last season, with Nylander leading the way on the team at 82.5% OZStarts. Not surprising given they started more in the d-zone last year than the Matthews line, Marner and Tavares have seen an even more dramatic jump from 56% to over 76%.

10.  The rains-it-pours adage couldn’t be more apropos at the moment. On a day when the Leafs broke the surprise news that Kerfoot will be out long term, they lost Trevor Moore to injury tonight and a struggling Jake Muzzin was seen wincing for most of the final 40 minutes of the game while grasping at his hip. The latter loss would be especially brutal on this team.

It’s probably melodramatic to say this upcoming five-game road trip could make or break the season, but it’s definitely huge. Maybe they play it around .500 and we’re no more clear on whether this team is going to rebound soon enough to keep their season on the rails, but my guess is they either get out on the road, come together as a team and figure this out, or their trip through Pittsburgh, Vegas, Arizona, Colorado, Detroit and Buffalo sends this situation into full-blown crisis mode. Getting away from the fans and media for two weeks might not be the worst timing.


Game Flow: 5v5 Shot Attempts

Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Boston Bruins


Game Highlights: Bruins 4 vs. Leafs 2